Video game skills a plus for new Hinds class

Published 11:41 am Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Want to make the leap from mastering video games to piloting an unmanned aircraft?

Beginning next month, Hinds Community College will offer courses to train students in piloting unmanned aerial vehicles.

Currently used in experimental and “drone” aircraft by military and civilian pilots in warzones, the technology is expected to be used in law enforcement, emergency services, delivery and aerial inspection of pipelines and borders.

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“The program is open to anybody,” said Randy Pearcy, chairman of the Aviation Department at Hinds. “People who think they might want to be pilots, yes, they might want to enroll, but also people who are very good at video games and like the idea of controlling an aircraft remotely.”

UAV spending is expected to top $94 billion over the next decade, Pearcy said.

Registration for the fall semester, which begins Aug. 13, is already under way. Two 8-week courses, basic and intermediate flight skill development, will be offered during the 16-week semester. Cost is about $300 per course, he said, unless they are taken as part of a full-time student enrollment, which for 12 units is about $1,000 per semester.

Another two courses will be offered in the spring, Pearcy said.

“These courses will give them the basic skills necessary to get their foot in the door, skills they can take to the military or law enforcement or other fields,” he said.

UAV training will be offered on the Raymond campus, which is also home to Hinds’ two-year aviation maintenance specialty and its pilot-training feeder program that funnels into Delta State University and leads to a four-year academic degree.

The maintenance program is limited to 24 students, and about 10 to 15 are usually enrolled in pilot training.

Hinds, Mississippi’s largest community college, is the only one to offer aviation programs.

The Rankin campus will also offer new aviation tech programs which will lead to an associate of applied science degree. Offerings there, which have included Air Traffic Control Technology, have been expanded with the addition of Airport Operations Technology and Aviation Security Technology.

“Staff members from the Hinds Aviation Department have participated in numerous conferences and meetings in the local and state aviation community,” Rankin campus instructor Oscar Branch said in a prepared statement. The college was encouraged “to develop training programs to prepare people for non-flying positions. Their encouragement is rooted in the steady growth trends in aviation … and the increasing demand for security-related employees in the industry.”

Pearcy said job prospects in the maintenance field also have been excellent, though students must commit to take the five FAA-administered tests required to obtain needed certification.

“The maintenance students have had no problems the last several years finding employment,” said Pearcy. “They might have to be willing to move, but in general they’ve had good opportunities to sign on with military contractors or other small, local airports, like Vicksburg, Vicksburg-Tallulah (Regional Airport) or Madison.”

Those entry-level jobs provide maintenance graduates a chance to hone their skills on small, private aircraft and then potentially move up to a larger airport maintaining commuter aircraft, he said.